by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
After reminding his readers that neither team in the recent Super Bowl had a five-star recruit in its starting lineup, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard devotes the rest of his latest magazine column to the important economic role played by late bloomers.
More than other advanced countries, the U.S. accommodates the late bloomer. Or at least we always used to. But I fear the U.S. is trending the wrong way. Ascendant in our culture today is the early-bloomer hero. The story line is almost a cliché now: The prodigy who aces the SATs, graduates from Stanford at 20, starts a company, raises millions of dollars and sells the thing to Google or Facebook for billions two years later.
We’re right to celebrate early success. We at FORBES do this in our annual 30 Under 30 issue and at our wildly successful Under 30 conferences. But the unintended result is that the late bloomer is getting crowded out. He/she is vanishing in the American imagination, especially with regard to business and, in particular, technology. America is in danger of losing a valuable narrative about itself, and the consequences are not trivial. …
… The idea of STEM fluency as a prerequisite for individual and national success is not new. Yet progress has been slow, if not nonexistent. The U.S.’ STEM fluency in K-12 education is falling behind that of other countries. American culture doesn’t warm to STEM heroes the way it does to athletes, actors and pop singers. Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t captured the country’s imagination even to the degree that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison did.
Why is that? My theory is that today’s technology business heroes are both so freakishly smart and young that they don’t inspire the rest of us. In fact, they intimidate the rest of us. It’s worth asking why. My guess: For decades Silicon Valley had among its role models late bloomers and tinkerers. For instance, Bill Hewlett barely got into college; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college; Andy Grove went to City College of New York.
Today a poisonous idea has taken root in Silicon Valley. It’s this: If you didn’t score 800 on your math SATs and didn’t get into Harvard, Stanford, Caltech or MIT, you don’t belong. You’re not one of the elite. Sure, you might start tomorrow’s billion-dollar company, but the odds are so long that the VCs won’t fund you.
Silicon Valley has morphed into Algorithmic Valley, which means if you didn’t hit that perfect SAT score, forget it. Is that a good message to be sending if our goal is to raise STEM fluency?